How to Organize 30 Years of Photos (Freebie: Getting Started Checklist)

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Learn how to organize 30 years of photos even if you don’t have the time and/or you don’t know where to start. Get your mindset in the right place and take these first steps so you can FINALLY get it done.

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Do you have boxes of disorganized and/or inherited photos? Do you feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to start organizing 30 years of photos or more? You’re not alone. It can be a daunting task to sift through blurry, lost, and special moments you’ve captured over the years. But don’t worry, I’m here to help you finally get started.

Not only will it allow you to relive fun memories and share them with loved ones, it will bring a sense of peace. And it will allow you to hold onto those special moments forever. As a professional photo manager, I recommend some simple steps to help you get started. AND keep going.

The Problem with a Lifetime of Photos

The problem is there are so many of them and in so many formats. Some may be so old you can’t view them anymore. You may have inherited photos, slides and/or movies from previous generations. Your collection may be large and varied, and may even be packed away, out of sight. And you know you SHOULD do something about them. The only way to find peace about this situation is to forget about them, but that’s not possible, as you know.

Most people aren’t doing anything about their photo memories. When adult children clean out their deceased parents’ home, they often throw away the boxes of unsorted, uncurated photo memories. If you don’t make the time to learn how to organize your precious photos now, it’s likely no one will ever do it.

When I ask people what’s preventing them from managing their photo memory collections, I get the same two answers again and again:

  • They don’t have the time
  • They don’t know where to start.
a large garbage can full of photos, scrapbooks, photo albums and other memorabiliaPin

Here’s some Photo Manager math for you:

No Time + No Knowledge = Overwhelm

Overwhelm is… well, overwhelming. It feels like an elephant is sitting on you. It paralyzes you. And how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Let’s look at each problem, one bite at a time.

How to Organize 30 Years of Photos when you don’t have the time

We are busy people. We have busy days. Busy days turn into busy weeks, and into busy months. And we tell ourselves that we are too busy to get started on our photo management projects. We think, “if only” we weren’t so busy we’d finally organize our photo collections.

We say things like “I’ll do it later, when I have time” or “I’m not in the right mindset now.” We wait for the perfect moment of inspiration or magical time to appear. The funny thing is that the “perfect moment” or “magical time” with no other obligations doesn’t actually exist.

Here’s the point: If you can’t get started now, chances are you never will. Later, you may end up regretting all the time that you didn’t dedicate to this important project. And you’ll head back into that negative “if only” cycle.

There is Good News

The good news is, you CAN break that negative loop and start taking the actions to get your photo memories organized. You can enjoy them again and leave a meaningful collection for future generations.

But first let’s acknowledge that your photo mess didn’t get into its current condition overnight. It took years and decades to get that way. Lucky for you, it won’t take as long to get it organized, but it will take a chunk of time. Just like eating the elephant, you are going to have to do it one bite at a time. And you will have to keep taking bites to finish the job.

For some people those bites might be 15 minutes a day. Others might choose one Saturday a month. For me it was 2 hours on most Sunday afternoons. I say “most” because in our family we celebrate birthdays and holidays on Sunday afternoons. Those celebrations took precedence, but out of 52 Sundays a year, they didn’t take up very many.

There is no right or wrong way to pick a schedule. The schedule you choose needs to work for you so you can commit to it, at least most of the time.

Three Ways to Keep your Commitment

There are three things you can do to help yourself keep your commitment to yourself and your collection.

The first is to figure out who you are doing this for. You might be doing it for yourself, your kids, your grandkids or another person. Often we shortchange ourselves on things we do for ourselves, so it might be easier if you choose another person as your “why.” But if you do choose yourself, be sure to remind yourself that you are worth it. Because you are!

The second is to put it on your calendar. Set an alarm so the appointed day and time cannot slip by unnoticed. Use a phone app, a sticky note – whatever works best for you to make sure follow through on your commitment.

The third is to tell someone about it. You are committing to making a change in your habits, and that is harder in isolation. Sharing it with others will make it feel real to you, and can provide some accountability.

If there’s someone who can commit to work with you on your collection – that’s great! But if not, make sure to tell several friends or family members. You may inspire them to work on their own lifetime of photos!

You might try working on them together over Zoom or Facetime. And if you don’t do that, you can check in with each other regularly by phone or email. Be sure to cheer each other on!

On to the next bite:

How to organize 30 years of photos when you Don’t Know Where to Start

The hardest part of starting any large project is… getting started. But when we too paralyzed to start, all we often need is for someone to tell us the first step.

a paper bag full of photo slidesPin

 I’m going to tell you the first step:

Decide you are going to start.

That’s it. That’s the no-fail way to get your photo and memory collection under control and feel peace about it. Decide to do it. Commitment is the most important step, and it’s the first step.

Here are the rest of the steps: 

7 steps to a complete photo management systemPin

Of course there are many details within the steps. Looking at the seven steps is like looking at a map for a cross-country road trip. Each step is a destination where you’ll hang out and visit friends and relatives for a while before moving on to the next step.

And you don’t have to go on this road trip by yourself. When you join the Family Photo Keeper community, you’ll get all the photo and memory management help you need. It’s like I’ll be in the car with you, and I’ll bring the snacks – elephant, of course!

What’s Next?

Your next step is to join the community. As a bonus I’ll send you my Getting Started Checklist. After that you’ll receive my weekly newsletter with helpful information and tips. And if you have any questions, I’m never further away than an email or message. I never share your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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